Ladarius Skelton rebounded from throwing a game-tying interception to lead four second-half scoring drives to help lift Southern to a 34-28 victory against Prairie View in a key SWAC game at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Saturday.
The Jaguars defense surrendered 455 yards but stopped the high-powered visitors four times in the red zone and once again with 1:05 left to snuff out the last opportunity and take control of the SWAC West Division race.
The Jaguars (3-3, 2-0 in SWAC play) won their second straight and beat the Panthers (2-4, 2-2) for the fourth consecutive time. The Jaguars are the lone unbeaten team in the West Division, ahead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 3-1.
“After that interception we went to the sideline, we talked to the coaches and went back out there and we did what we had to do,” said Skelton, who rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown and threw for 96 and another score. “We took this as a championship game. We were fighting for the West Division and they were, too.”
Skelton ran five yards and Devon Benn went 29 yards for another touchdown as the teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter. Cesar Barajas kicked field goals of 44 and 29 yards for the deciding points. Skelton also threw a 4-yard scoring pass to Hunter Register in the second quarter.
The Jaguars used their running game again to put the game away, eating up clock time and keeping quarterback Jalen Morton off the field. Southern enjoyed a 34:10 to 25:50 edge in time of possession and rushed for 238 yards after going for 269 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week. Benn led Southern with 87 yards on 15 carries.
Morton rushed for 133 yards, including a 47-yard scoring run to cut Southern’s lead to 24-21 with 10:32 left. But the Jaguars defense kept the SWAC’s leading rusher Dowonya Tucker to 50 yards on 13 carries.
“We had to overcome a lot of our own mistakes,” linebacker Calvin Lunkins said. “We knew they were going to make plays; we just had to make more plays than they did. They’re explosive but we kept fighting.”
Southern scored on an 11-yard run by Jamar Washington in the first quarter and led 14-7 at halftime after Skelton’s TD pass to Register.
Prairie View finally tied the game at 14 in the third period when Jaylen Harris intercepted a pass by Skelton and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. But Skelton rebounded and drove the Jaguars to a 17-14 lead on Barajas’ first field goal. He made it a 24-14 lead with his 5-yard run after Kordell Caldwell blocked and recovered a Prairie View punt.
The Panthers came right back to cut the lead to 24-21 on a 47-yard run by Morton on a fourth-and-2 play. Morton faked Tucker and raced around the right end for the score. Morton finished with 287 yards passing, completing 17 of 31 throws. Kalen Riles caught two passes for 100 yards, including a 26-yard TD pass in the first quarter.
Back came the Jaguars. After a long kickoff return put the ball at the Southern 40, Benn ran 18 yards on an option play, Skelton for 18 on a keeper and Benn covered the final 29 right up the middle.
Southern surrendered 201 yards in the first half, 166 passing, but did its best work in the red zone. After the Panthers tied the game at 7, the Jaguars held the visitors scoreless despite reaching the Southern 2, 10 and 13-yard lines.
Southern took the opening kickoff and, aided by a 33-yard return by Chris Chaney, drove 53 yards in eight plays to score on an 11-yard run by Washington. Skelton keyed the drive with an 18-yard run and threw to Tyler Brown for nine yards and third and 8 one play before the TD.
Chaney had 89 yards on three kickoff returns to aid Southern’s overall field position.
The Panthers came right back. Despite slowing Tucker as a runner, he took a swing pass on the first play and went 39 yards. Prairie View survived penalties on three consecutive plays which forced a goal to go play from the 26- yard line. Morton then hit Kalen Riles over the middle for the touchdown on a post pattern to tie the game at 7.
Disaster hit on the Jaguars next possession when Craig Rhodes blocked a Southern punt to set up the Panthers at the Jaguar 13. But Caleb Carter dropped Tucker for a 7-yard loss and Lunkins and Dakavion Champion sacked Morton. Amaury Martinez then missed a 29-yard field goal, the first of his two misses, the other from 31 yards in the third quarter.
Three plays later, Skelton threw his first interception to give Prairie View another chance at the Southern 21. But the Jaguars defense answered again when Tamaurice Smith intercepted a slant pass in the end zone, his third interception in three games.
Smith’s pick gave Southern’s offense momentum and it took off on a 65-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 38-yard completion by Skelton to Bedford. On third-and-goal from the 3, Skelton faked a handoff and hit a wide open Register over the middle for the score.